MISSION POSSIBLE – MC Sports Takes Paly Football Live!

Mukund on Camera

It seemed a lot to ask!  There were a dozen obstacles!  Our production truck, beaut that it is, is analog.  There was no ethernet connection at the Paly football field available for us to tap.  How were we going to get a signal from the production truck back to the Media Center?  And before answering that, how were we going to convert our analog signal to a digital feed that could travel over the internet? And can we do this with a bunch of kids manning key crew positions?    These and other challenging questions had Media Center staff and volunteers planning and testing right up until the kick-off the inaugural game at Paly’s new football stadium on Friday, the 13th of September.

It was a nail biter, and I am not talking about the game, which was pretty much a rout with the Vikings trouncing the San Benito/Hollister Haybalers, as expected.  I am talking about: would this patched together set up work?  Could the kids do the work of adults?

Yes to both questions!  Mission Possible!

When youth are prepared and when they are handed responsibility and when caring adults are there to answer questions and mentor, that’s when the magic happens.  We all know kids learn fast, we all know kids get technology.  But there is talk that kids are too programmed nowadays.   Really do we need one more program?   Well what happens when the kids get to run the program?  That’s the goal of MC Sports.  We start out the school year with adults working with youth to produce local games, and by the time the school year ends, the youth are running the program and having a blast.  We did this last year and we’re doing it again.   Friday night’s game kicked off our sports season working with the youth plus we made a technical leap for the MC — taking a sporting event live from a remote location!

Jonny and CJ

We were able to push the feed to the Media Center which not only pushed in out onto Channel 28 but also to our website where the game was simulcast.  Grant Raffel who was an announcer for MC Sports last year is a Freshman at Williams College in Massachusetts.  He watched the entire game at college.  He texted in to say it looked great.  Other alumni of the program were watching from Southern California and points in the midwest.    Touch Down!

Technically, how was it done?  We took the audio and video feed out of the truck and put it through a roving encoder (which transcoded our analog feed to a digital feed) but before the signal could be routed to the internet we had to send the audio feed through a stereo converter box so that the XLR feed that came from the truck could be converted to RCA which was then converted to digital by the encoder!   Got that?   And then a 100 foot ethernet cable took the feed from the encoder to a wireless transmitter mounted at the top of the bleachers.  This wireless transmitter sent the signal over to a wireless receiver at 25 Churchill (PAUSD HQ) and that receiver pushed it over the fiber cable back to the Media Center where it was received and routed to Channel 28 for live cablecast and then to the Media Center website server for streaming over our website.   Piece of cake!

The real triumph of the evening was not the technology, but the people that made the technology work and the production team that created something worth watching.   Hats off to Chris Pearce, the MC’s IT Specialist who worked with Alexey Demyanenko of IT for PAUSD to configure the technical transaction.   And thank you to PAUSD staffer Mourad Stewart for helping us with testing. Special thanks to MC Board Member Andrew Mellows who did his usual pre-game magic at the controls, wielding a tiny screwdriver, setting audio and video levels, balancing the cameras and setting the genlock.   Don’t know what a genlock is?  You don’t want to know!

And thanks to Scott Van Duyne who after helping with set up went back to Master Control at the Media Center to check on the quality of the feed, which was iffy at first.  Scott described the feed to us back at the truck.  The feed did not look good, it was jagged and jumpy.  When in doubt, power cycle everything.  So we power-cycled the roaming encoder and we power-cycled the antenna.  And then we waited what seemed like forever, must have been a full minute and then voila… the signal started slow, as if the data packets didn’t know where they were going, and then they started to find each other as the feed improved in quality second by second, and then the data packets  SNAPPED into efficient formation and we had clear clean picture and audio.

And how about Jeff McGinnis? Veteran MC staffer, Jeff arrived to help out and ended up being corralled into the director’s chair.

Jeff McGinnis directing the youth

That was a lucky stroke that Jeff knows basically everything about the control console in the truck, so he could answer all the kids’ questions while directing in a seamless manner.  And then finally, and most importantly, the whole point of the MC Sports program in the first place – THE YOUTH! — who except for directing basically did all the production work!

Five of the youth who were trained in the truck during the MC Sports summer camp this summer crewed for the game.  They rotated graphics, playback machine, audio, and the three cameras:

Johnny Pappas – Playback and Announcing
Mukund Krishnan – Camera and Graphics
CJ Roulo – Graphics and Camera
Zach Phillips – Camera
Kunal Singh – Camera

Kunal on Camera

Special thanks to Trevor Felch, Gunn 2008 who was the announcing VOICE of Gunn for his four years there.  And our surprise crew member of the night, Eric Leroy (former Paly student) who jumped into announcing the first half and then ran the playback system the second half after being trained by Jonny at the half time break.

Once all the technical glitches were ironed out and the crew were in position, MC Sports producer Chuck Alley and I could have gone out for ice cream, but we stayed and marveled at the way this production came together.  And we marveled at the staying power of the youth.  Even the youngest members stayed to the bitter end.

When handed responsibility the youth step up.  I witness this over and over again as a staff member here at the MC.   I was really proud of those kids.  Chance does play a part, but when you have so many dedicated people working for the same thing, chances are  a seemingly impossible mission becomes possible.

Trevor and Eric
The game will be replayed tonight at 8 pm on Channel 28 and throughout the season, just visit our online schedule and search MC Sports

Friday night’s game was the first of many LIVE broadcasts that are planned for this academic year.  And we’re looking for support to grow the program.  Would you or someone you know like to get involved in MC Sports?   Do you need a repository for your charitable gift this year?   The Media Center is worth a look!  Check in with Chuck Alley, the  MC Sports director to learn more (chuck@midpenmedia.org)

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